Dear Women Friends

It’s been a while, but I’m packing to move and only have a few minutes. This subject has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks so I decided it’s something I need to write about.

A few years ago I read a book called How to Spot A Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved by M.A. Sandra L. Brown.

It may seem weird that I, a happily married woman, would need to read that, but the truth is predators don’t care if you are married or not. The reason I read the book was that I was in a very low time in my life and an old friend came along. He developed an unhealthy relationship with me that was very hurtful in the end. At first it was euphoric because I thought he truly cared, but as time went on it became obvious that he was in it for the ego boost and I was not the only target. It was never a physical relationship, completely emotional and entirely inappropriate and damaging. 

That’s all I’m going to say about that situation, but since that time I have known other women who have experienced similar situations so I want to recommend this book to all women, whether or not you are married or in a relationship or not. Keep your eyes open and your heart guarded. With much love ~

Here is a helpful checklist from the book:

Red Alert Behavioral Checklist

The emotional predator:

  • has a natural instinct for sensing vulnerable or “sensitive” women
  • senses women with low self esteem
  • senses women who want or require relationships in order to feel needed or fulfilled
  • senses women who are bored, lonely, or needy
  • senses women who are on the rebound from having been recently dumped, divorced, emotionally ignored, or wounded
  • senses women’s body and eye language
  • listens closely to what a woman says in order to pick up clues he can use in later conversations
  • senses unfulfilled physical intimacy needs and sexual needs
  • creates a sense of fun and mystique to draw you in
  • is smooth and seems to have all the right lines and insights into you
  • comes on fast and strong and sweeps you off your feet
  • is overly interested in every detail of your life
  • wants to move in together or get married quickly
  • implies that he “knows” you well before he has spent enough time to really get to know you 
  • pushes you to quickly disclose a lot about yourself to him
  • tries to fulfill your physical, financial, or emotional needs
  • seeks to fill roles in your life, such as advisor, father figure, spiritual leader, mentor
  • is overly helpful, comforting and understanding
  • has the exact same interests, values, hobbies, etc that you do
  • is a chameleon who can be all things to all people

Good Friday

I just returned from our church’s Good Friday service where we acknowledged the death of Jesus on the cross, emptied the altar, snuffed out the Christ candle and left the building in silence. Every year we have this opportunity to look closely at death and suffering and try to make some kind of sense of it.

I’ve always been a rule follower. I was taught that if I would listen and obey, life would go smoothly. For the most part, as a child, this philosophy worked. The people who were making the rules for me, my parents and most teachers, loved me and had my best interest at heart. But when parents and teachers are not around and you are at the mercy of your peers, clearly drawn lines begin to blur. My eighth grade year found me in a new city and a new school. Junior high school is difficult enough and I had moved from a town of 200 residents to the suburbs of a fairly large city. To say the first few weeks on the school bus were bumpy is a gross understatement. I was the last person on and finding a seat was impossible. The only words I ever heard the bus driver say were “sit down!” So, in total compliance, I sat, on the floor. The behavior on that school bus was something like a mixture of Survivor and and Lord of the Flies. And I, living by the only philosophy I knew, absorbed it all. It was a long time before I learned how societal norms and institutional rules and regulations can be manipulated and hurt people for someone else’s gain and that sometimes breaking the rules is the right thing to do.

On Good Friday, we try to understand the system that was in place and we grapple for the nuggets of truth and discernment. And every single time the reality of that day takes me back a little. The ominous fact that Jesus was crucified because he didn’t toe the line and follow the prescribed rules of the system settles in upon me like a cold, dark cloud. He was beaten and killed because he clung to the truth that human dignity and justice are more important than following any man made rules and regulations put in place to control the masses. Jesus saw people differently. We see it time and time again in the downcast eyes of the women with whom he gently spoke. We see it in the fishermen and tax collectors. His message is always and forever that every outcast, every sad and lonely soul and every “filthy sinner” is worthy of God’s everlasting love. The world of Jesus was full of violence but he did not participate. I think it’s sometimes hard for us to understand how submersive his message was (although it may become easier in the near future). The idea of love and peace having power over retribution, retaliation and violence is a pretty wild idea, revolutionary.

Of course many laws and rules are put in place for the good of all. But laws and rules are also sometimes enacted as a means of oppression and injustice. It is up to us, as citizens of the world, to continue to question rules and laws that oppress and hurt people. We shouldn’t just assume that we should follow along. Let Jesus teach us. Let history teach us. Don’t let the suffering of people in the past go in vain. Remember the Holocaust. Remember slavery. Remember the crucifixion.

If only Rosa Parks would have followed the rules, or Susan B. Anthony, or Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela…  Sometimes not following the rules is the right thing to do. Sometimes refusing to comply brings to light and affects change of practices that are steeped in injustice. People have paid a high price, even the ultimate cost of their lives for shining a light on oppression. Jesus did it. And he called his followers to pick up their own crosses and shine their own lights. Will we be brave enough?

Using My Voice

I didn’t write anything last week because I’m neck-deep in writing two papers about refugees for my master’s degree. I took two classes this semester against my better judgment (along with working a full-time job) but when this semester ends next month, I’ll only have two classes left to finish (plus two degree papers and the required comprehensive exams). I can almost taste freedom. I began this journey in 2013 when I entered the TESOL graduate certificate program, but it was only last summer that I made the decision to go for the Master’s in Applied Second Language Acquisition. A masters has been on my bucket list for many years but I didn’t really think I’d ever actually do it. But here I am. Doing it. It’s pretty painful right now, but that will just make it sweeter in the end.

I had an amazing opportunity yesterday that I want to share. Earlier in the week a friend messaged me and asked if I’d be interested in speaking to her social work class. I’m quite an introvert, actually and speaking in front of a group is not usually comfortable for me, even though I do have some experience. When my friend mentioned the subject matter she wanted me to share, I immediately said yes. She wanted me to share with her students about my experiences with Muslims. I am passionate about this subject matter. Because I work at a University with people from all over the world, sometimes I forget that I was 50 years old before I met my first Muslim friend. And sometimes I forget that some other people from the Midwest U.S.A. haven’t met or interacted with people who happen to be Muslim.

So I took the day off work and went to visit with a group of students about my friendships and experiences and how much my Muslim friends have taught me and reshaped my thinking about people who are different from me. I was actually amazed myself to see the change in my attitude over the past 4 or 5 years. I am so grateful and a much richer person because of the friendships I have with people who didn’t grow up the same way I did. I have met people from other religions beside Islam as well that I didn’t know about before and I have dear friends who hold to no religious beliefs at all. These people have all made me a better person and I’d dare say even a better Christian because of how their points of view and their very presence in this world and in my world has caused me to reexamine all that I believe and what I consider to be truth.

It breaks my heart when I see hateful articles about Muslims. I feel pain when people make sweeping statements about people they have never met. I try to keep my time on Facebook to a minimum because I grieve every time I see the hateful rhetoric. I know there are evil, hateful people in the world. But they exist in every society. There are hateful, evil people who label themselves Christian. And I’m sure there are people in the world who make sweeping statements about Christians because of it. I can’t control what my friends say or think or believe about Muslims. All I can do is use my voice to tell a different story. And I just hope there are people who are willing to listen.

A Gentle Piece of My Mind

I had filtered my Facebook news feed with an outside app. I had unfollowed friends who posted things that I consider hateful. I tried to buffer myself from the brunt of the election season and when I did encounter it I tried to remain silent and civil. I tried to hide my horror at what was going on with the election. Be quiet. Keep the peace. Be quiet. Keep the peace?

If there is anything I have learned in the past several years about peace, it is certainly that being quiet only provides an illusion of peace and the loud dominant voices who continue to march on, often crush those silent “peacemakers.” So here are my words, my quiet and meek words, for what they are worth. This is my opinion. I’m not a political expert but I do have some strong opinions.

I’m tired. I’m tired of a sacred and holy faith being used as a club to bully the masses. I’m tired of reading and listening to words upon words upon words that mean absolutely nothing. And I am beyond tired of entire groups of mostly innocent people being demonized and marginalized.

I’m no fan of politicians. For quite a while now I have been voting on what seems to be the lesser of the evils. I think we are all pretty aware that the majority of politicians are not what we would call honest. I have tried to keep faith in our system and the checks and balances that may at least partially work. Yes, the system is bent, if not broken and some changes are desperately needed.

I am still terrified of any form of government under the leadership of Donald Trump. I have watched him lie, bully, massage statistics and constantly use double speak, never directly answering a single question that is posed to him and never taking responsibility for anything. No matter how successful people believe him to be, running a business is not the same as running a country. In business you are selling a product or service. Selling something requires marketing. You first convince people that they have a problem. Then you convince them that what you are selling will solve that problem. Donald Trump presented the problem that our country was in shambles and our government a mess. Next he announced that he could fix all of it right away if he were elected president. Many people believed him and believed that someone good at running a business would be good at running a country but I strongly disagree. Business owners are concerned with the bottom line. They want to make the largest profit possible. While they need to please the customer enough to make them want to buy, and folks surely did want to buy what he was selling, in business the best interest of the customer is not the bottom line. The bottom line is profit. There are plenty of businesses out there who want to make you believe their product is exactly what you need, and Trump did just that. The problem is, just like with all shady businesses, the product doesn’t work. It’s a lie.

I consistently heard and saw President Obama demonized and hated among many people I know over the past few years. I don’t understand why. He is a politician just like all of them. I don’t agree with all his policies as I have not agreed with all the policies of any of our presidents. He was cast in the worst light possible, called the anti-Christ, a terrorist, accused of wanting to destroy our country. But some of his policies have helped people. The unemployment rate went down. I know people who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act. It was never perfect. It needs work. If our current government was working together to make it better for our citizens, wow, I’d be so behind them. But what we’re looking at is a bunch of powerful people on both sides of the aisle acting like children. Some of this is not new. Politics has been ugly for a long time. But this finger pointing, blaming, boasting, belittling, name-calling and especially the tweeting is completely over the top.

I spent three months away from this country. I heard people from all parts of the world joking and laughing about our upcoming elections. The first words people said to me upon meeting usually had something to do with Donald Trump. I went into stores and although it was in Arabic, I could still understand the word “Trump” amid the radio discourse. I couldn’t get away from it. In my opinion, the bottom line for this man is profit and power for himself. I do not believe for a second that he cares about what happens to the American people, or any other people for that matter.

After a four-month break, I am back on Facebook. I missed my friends. I won’t be using my Facebook page to call our president names or claim his followers are “sheeple” because I don’t see the good in that. It’s important to speak up against injustice or any form of oppression. I don’t intend to be silent. For me, resistance to injustice reveals itself through relationships. I want to meet people and learn about them. I want to know what their hopes and dreams are. I want to appreciate and love them. And I want to stand with them. I want to speak more with my actions than with my words. I will use my words, however, when I find it necessary and I think my blog is the best place for that. Kind and gentle as possible.

I May be Losing My Religion: And I don’t think it is a bad thing

I have been going to church since I was a small child. Even before my dad was a Christian, my mom took my sister and me to church. After dad began his spiritual journey, he quickly became a pastor and church became the center of our lives. Somehow I grew up with the simplified view that church people, Christians, are the good guys and everyone else are the bad guys. Those people out there are what is called “the world” and those are the people that will try to get you to sin. You should be nice to them, try to love them, mostly try to be a good influence on them, but don’t hang out with them too much or they might be a bad influence on you. (Did I get it wrong, or is this what we were taught?)

I do not regret my upbringing. I was raised with a balance of discipline and love and my parents are very dear to me. We have deep conversations and all of us continue to grow and learn.

I have a Bible degree. I went to a Christian university and got myself a degree, not only in Biblical studies, but also Biblical languages. My husband and I raised our kids in church. I’ve been a pastor’s wife for nearly 33 years and I was a pastor myself for a year and a half. I preached every Sunday, conducted funerals, baptized folks and made countless hospital visits. I loved those people from my very soul, right up until the day the tsunami of depression rolled right over and consumed me.

I was broken for a very long time, lost in the darkness where I couldn’t see, hear, or find God. Anywhere. But finally, gradually, the sun began to shine again and I began to heal. And when, at last, I could lift myself and stand upright I began to feel God’s presence again. I began to hear him speak to me and call my name. It was louder and stronger than ever. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus and I believe in his teachings. I feel so strongly that the world would be a beautiful place if we could just learn to think about others before ourselves. If we could truly take those life-giving words of Jesus and live them like we really believe them. What would it look like if we stopped singing “When We All Get to Heaven” and started loving our neighbor right here on earth?

To be sure there are good, loving Christians today. And I don’t mean any offense. But what seems to be coming from the loud gong of religious leaders in Christianity today does not resemble love. What I fear Christianity in the U.S. is becoming is not kind nor patient. It is envious, boastful, arrogant and rude. It’s selfish and quick tempered. It rejoices in being hurtful and does not look for truth. It doesn’t want to bear any burden, believe anything other than its own narrowness, create hope for anyone and it certainly doesn’t feel the need to endure for any cause outside its own legalistic agenda. (Reference to 1 Corinthians 13, just in case you didn’t notice.)

This is the season of Lent. It’s time to ponder our spiritual lives and take a deep look at how we are living. I ask myself, do I represent Jesus of Nazareth? Can I read the recorded words that are attributed to him and say that I truly follow them? Do I live the beatitudes?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Miriam Webster definition of persecute: to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief.

I’ve heard Christians in the U.S. say that they are persecuted. We’re not. There may be some rare instances, but for the majority, no. Christians are persecuted in some parts of the world, but the U.S. is not one of those places. Our lives and the lives of our families are not in danger in the U.S. when we admit we are Christians. In some instances, however, folks who claim to be Christians are perpetrators of persecution in this country. I have witnessed this and recently I actually physically stood between the persecutor and victim. Jesus did not instruct anyone to insult people, call them names, single them out in a crowd or tell them they are going to hell. (What is hell, anyway? That’s for another day.)

I have always labeled myself a Christian. Up until a few years ago my entire worldview was formed between stained glass windows. But I have experienced more. I have become closely acquainted with people on the outside of those walls. I’ve met people from other religions and people with no religion at all. I have learned something revolutionary. The truth is they are not our enemies at all! They, my friends, are our neighbors. And we can’t say that we love them if we are willing to cause them harm, or let them die, or legislate laws that hurt them. If that is what it means to be a Christian these days, then I’m giving it up for Lent (and forever). Because if we are willing to do those things, I don’t see how we can claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth.

Thoughts

Can you explain your faith or beliefs without saying, “because the Bible says…”? What if you are talking to someone who doesn’t give any credence to the Bible or hold any beliefs about what it says? How do you describe your faith without quoting it?

I periodically have conversations with people who have a very different belief system than I do. I find it a positive thing, healthy for me, to have meaningful conversations with people who see the world so much differently than I do. I’m grateful for these learning opportunities that allow me to challenge what I’ve always believed and been taught and to grow and expand my knowledge and understanding of my neighbors on this world. The more I have these conversations, the more I love people.

So what about you? Does your faith stand up when you speak about your life and how you have experienced God? Can you say that you believe what you believe because you have tested it and found it to be true? Or maybe you have rejected a belief that you have always thought to be true but looked around and found that it’s not true after all, or at least not in the same way. Both of these things have happened to me and much more. I am continuously coming to new understandings as I experience new things and come in contact with new people. I have a common saying that I use a lot, “my life is rich with people,” and when I think about the people I know, from all parts of my life, I feel extremely blessed. This, I think, is the way God works. God isn’t up there somewhere manipulating nature and designing each snowflake. God is down here, working in and with people. And that is what I love so much about God. 

 

 

Photo a Day

I truly enjoy taking pictures and playing around with them. When I learned that the United Methodist Church has a photo a day through Lent, I decided to join in. I will post the photos daily on Instagram and on my weekly blog. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday so I have 5 photos to share, including tomorrow’s photo.

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The Ash Wednesday photo is titled “Heal.” The cross is olive wood from Bethlehem and the band aid, well it’s covering a sore that doesn’t want to heal. 

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“Injustice” This picture was taken in a village called Bir-ouna where the olive trees have been destroyed to make way for a new Israeli-only road, which connects settlements, and more separation barrier. The razor wire is a clue to the struggle here.

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“Sacrifice” These are more trees in Bir-ouna that have been destroyed. These were models for some of my drawings. 


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“Treasure” The crucifix and prayer beads were gifts from two different Muslim friends. The afghans in the background are family heirlooms. 


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“Celebration” this was last year on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. These pilgrims had just come down the Mount of Olives and are joyfully on their way to the Old City. 

The hashtag is #rethinkchurch and it is definitely something I have been pondering. What does it mean to be a Christian?